Friday, August 15, 2008

An open letter to Rodale Press

Dear Rodale Press,

Do people actually believe this crap? And when I say "crap," I am of course referring to the advice that you give in Mountain Bike magazine. I know Mountain Bike used to be a standalone publication but now is a free supplement to everyone who subscribes to the only slightly more insightful sister publication, Bicycling. So it can't possibly be that good or it would have made it on its own. Regardless of the nature of the publication, when one is writing as a professional journalist, it's probably a good idea to ensure that what you have to say is at the very least accurate and preferably insightful. Several of your most recent articles are neither.

For instance, in the most recent issue of Mountain Bike (they are not dated, presumably so that when they sit on the newsstand for eons, the unwitting dupes who actually pay for them are not put off by a shelf life that is longer than that of canned tuna fish), you indicate that "we get most of the water we consume from the foods we eat. Yup, even if you're drinking eight glasses of H2O every day, you're getting most of your hydration from food." Really. I know that kangaroo rats and lizards get nearly all of their water from the food they eat, but I am really struggling to figure out how there is more than a half gallon of water in a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and soy milk, a sandwich, an apple, a handful of mixed nuts, a cookie, and a plate of pasta and meat sauce. It just doesn't add up--there's just not four pounds of water in that much food.

But hey, if you tell me I'm getting most of my water from food, even when on the same day I eat the aforementioned items I may also go on a ride and drink a half gallon on the bike in addition to the half gallon I drink off the bike, I'll believe you. Because you're a credible publication, and I'm a newbie cyclist who doesn't know that much about these things.

In the previous issue, you have a teaser on the cover touting "the tool that could save your life." Upon turning to the appropriate page, one finds a writeup about a torque wrench. Now I can understand that there would be some degree of pain and consternation over snapping a handlebar or breaking a carbon seatpost. In fact, I'll even concede that both of these could cause injury. But last I checked, I had never heard any instances of someone dying because his bottom bracket was too tight and seized up during a ride. So while torque wrenches are important, at least for those who insist on putting carbon bits on mountain bikes, it's a bit of a stretch to intimate that it could "save your life." Unless of course I was being attacked by the rabid editor of a sub-standard affinity magazine, and I used the tool to club him to death. In that case, it would have saved my life, but not yours.

Finally, there in that selfsame issue, you did us all the service of debunking a very costly nutrition myth. In this case, all of us who have been drinking coca-cola during rides were warned about what nasty stuff that is because in a 170 pound cyclist, "the most he can absorb is 77 grams of carbs per hour....if you chug a 12 ounce bottle of coke, you just downed 39 grams of carbohydrates, which could set you up for massive gastric distress." OK, I majored in English, not math, so forgive me for struggling with this one, but how does consuming half the carbs that I can absorb in an hour set me up for "massive gastric distress?" What if I eat an energy bar that contains 50 grams of carbs--is that going to make me sick too? Is it the concentration of carbs? That doesn't seem right either, because there are 39 grams in a 12 ounce Coke, but a one ounce gel contains 25 grams, making it about eight times as concentrated. Is there anything I can eat that won't set me up for "massive gastric distress?" I really don't get it.

Perhaps the nutritionist consulted for this article just doesn't think Coke is good for you. I won't argue that it is, but on a really long ride, at some point calories are calories and hydration is hydration, no matter what form it comes in. Sure some people are going to get an upset stomach from drinking a can of coke. Those people shouldn't drink it. But to other people, it could be the difference between finishing a ride and bonking. In fact, I remember several years ago when your publication interviewed four of the top cross country racers, and three of them mentioned in the interview how much they look forward to taking on a bottle full of Coke during the last lap. But perhaps they don't know what they're talking about. In fact, it was probably all the Cokes he drank that caused David Millar's chain to snap during the Giro this year. After all, Coke rots your teeth, so I'm sure it rots your chain as well.

Don't get me wrong, Rodale Press, your publications are full of information. And in the case of Bicycling and Mountain Bike, I typically read most of it. But it would be really nice if you could step back and ask yourselves how high the information is going to register on the BS meter before it goes to press. In fact, as I've mentioned before, many of your headlines are somewhere between massive exaggerations and bald-faced lies, and I'm surprised that you can legally publish them. Just remember that, as readers, if we want the Weekly World News, we'll buy that. But when we want accurate, insightful information about bicycles and bicycling, it would be nice to have a place to go. The perfect solution would be to swap Style Man for Lennard Zinn and just read VeloNews. But that would be asking too much.

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